The Edmonton Oil Kings were hoping a return to the friendly confines of Rogers Place would help them snap a seven-game losing skid, but the Red Deer Rebels had other ideas.
Red Deer spoiled the homecoming with a 5-2 victory against the Oil Kings, ending a two-game winless skid of their own in the process.
Brandon Hagel proved a one-man wrecking crew for Red Deer, scoring four goals in the victory. Alex Morozoff also scored for Red Deer (6-3-1-0), while Jake Neighbours and Trey Fix-Wolansky countered for the Oil Kings (5-6-0-1), who saw their losing skid extend to seven games.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen often, so it’s pretty special for me,” Hagel said. “Everything was kind of going my way. From a team standpoint, I think it’s a learning curve for all of us. We kind of got ahead of ourselves when we scored the first two goals and fell behind a little bit.
“But I think overall, personally, obviously, everything was going right for me, not many people get to say they’ve scored four goals in one game in the Western Hockey League, it’s pretty special and I’m excited it happened.”
Edmonton started the season winning their first five games of the year, but have not won a game this month. Their last victory was a 6-3 win against the Calgary Hitmen on Sept. 29.
Oil Kings goaltender Boston Bilous made 20 saves in a losing cause, while Ethan Anders stopped 41 shots for the Rebels in the victory.
The Oil Kings were down two goals on the first three shots of the game as Morozoff and Hagel scored to give Red Deer a 2-0 lead, 68 seconds into the contest.
Neighbours pulled one back for the Oil Kings later in the period, but it was as close as they would get.
“I think that’s eight games in a row when we’ve gone down a goal,” Neighbours said. “It’s something that’s killing us early on, you waste a lot of energy trying to battle back. We got a couple to make it close and then they scored two or three minutes later. We just have to tighten some things up defensively, I think offensively we did a lot of good things.”
Hagel scored two more in the second period and then added another in the third to put the game out of reach.
The Oil Kings will have another opportunity to snap their extended losing skid when they host the Kootenay Ice (4 p.m.) on Sunday.
STARTING ON TIME
Slow starts plagued the Oil Kings during their six-game road trip and they failed to show up at puck drop again Friday against the Rebels.
With the ice still wet, Alex Morozoff scored to put Red Deer up 1-0, just 29 seconds into the contest with the first shot on goal.
While they were still announcing the opening goal, Brandon Hagel turned Oil Kings defenceman Conner McDonald inside out and slipped the puck through Bilous for a 2-0 lead, 1:08 into the game.
The second period didn’t get off to a great start for the Oil Kings either. Hagel scored his second of the game 1:16 into the frame, putting the Oil Kings in a 3-1 hole.
“It’s frustrating because you expend a lot of energy through the course of the game trying to play catch-up,” said Oil Kings head coach Brad Lauer. “We did it again (Friday). We did some good things, but again we were late to the game. When you’re chasing the game all night, it’s tough to catch up and eventually you tire yourself out.”
Hagel, the Rebels’ leading scorer, doubled his goal output on the season with an outstanding performance against the Oil Kings.
The 20-year-old Morinville product had four goals on the season going into the contest before netting a hat-trick in the first two periods and adding a fourth for good measure in the third.
Hagel is in his fourth season with the Rebels, and had four goals and 15 points going into the contest. Selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth round (159 overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Hagel had 18 goals and 59 points for the Rebels last year.
THE FIX IS IN
Oil Kings captain Trey Fix-Wolansky continues to lead by example, even if the Oil Kings have been struggling of late.
Fix-Wolansky had a goal and assist Friday to increase his team scoring lead to 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 13 games. Fix-Wolansky went into the game fourth in WHL scoring, behind Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders (11 goals, 26 points), Joachim Blichfeld of the Portland Winterhawks (eight goals, 22 points) and Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades (five goals, 20 points).
The Oil Kings did find their skating legs after going down early to the Rebels, storming back in the first period and outshooting the visitors 20-12 in the period.
The Oil Kings, however, were unable to find a way past Rebels goaltender Ethan Anders, who was outstanding in the contest and shut the door when the lead had been cut to a goal in the period.
Anders, 18, a Pilot Butte, Sask., product was just as good in the second, turning away 11 of the 12 shots he faced.
Connor McDavid is never going to get any Selke votes — he makes too much noise offensively to be noticed for his defensive work — but it isn’t going unnoticed by his teammates.
Like all great players, the strength of McDavid’s defensive play is the fact he has the puck most of the time, but he’s also smart and tenacious when the other guys have it.
“He makes a lot of defensive plays but sometimes they go unnoticed because of what he does on the offensive end,” said goaltender Cam Talbot, who appreciates more than anyone McDavid’s commitment to both ends of the ice.
“He’s always hustling back, breaking up two-on-ones and things like that. I think because of everything he does offensively, sometimes those things get overlooked.”
Take his overtime interception Thursday night that he transitioned into the game-winning goal. That play could have very easily gone the other way.
“If he doesn’t come back as hard as he does there, Bergeron’s got a breakaway,” said Talbot. “And that’s not one of the guys in overtime you want having a breakaway.”
If you ran the Edmonton Oilers last two games through an odds-making machine it would spit out 0-2 nine times out of 10.
They were down 4-1 in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday and were being outshot 10-1 in the first period of their home opener against the Bruins on Thursday.
But here they are, fresh off a couple of overtime victories and on a three-game win streak, having already taken down some pretty big names in the NHL pecking order.
“That’s what winning teams do,” said centre Leon Draisaitl. “They might not play their best for the whole 60 minutes but they find a way to win games. We’ve done that.”
And at times they’ve looked pretty good doing it. Of course, coming back from 4-1 down to win and pulling out a victory when you don’t get your second shot of the game until the 14-minute mark isn’t sustainable. By their own admission, the Oilers haven’t been playing their best hockey and they know that if they keep starting games like this it’s going to catch up with them.
“We can talk and preach about it as much as we want, we just need to do it,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “We found ways to win a few here, but you don’t want to spend a season trying to find ways to win.
“We have some stuff we need to clean up. But we also definitely have some confidence coming off the games that we had.”
Given that two games is a pretty small sample size, there is still some question as to whether the Oilers are a good team that can overcome its flaws and sags, or a team with too many flaws and sags that got away with a couple.
“I still don’t think we’re learning lessons very well,” said head coach Todd McLellan, after Friday’s optional practice. “We’re slowly wading into games. It’s almost like we’re waiting for something negative to happen to trigger our good game. That has to get fixed.
“It’s a positive sign that we’re able to come back and to stay in games and we’re able to push good teams late, but it’s chicken and egg. There is a lot of positive on the back end of games and a lot of negative on the front end. Today we addressed the front end.”
This might be a case of this team learning how to believe in itself again. All the confidence and swagger they built during their 103-point season two years ago was lost in the crash of 2017-18 when they spent about six straight months listening to everyone tell them what a terrible disappointment they were. So maybe it’s taking them a few minutes, or periods, to realize they might not be fodder anymore.
“I still believe this team is fighting off the past a little bit,” admitted McLellan. “It has to get over and beyond that. We’re a new group with a new year in front of us.”
The mood in the room after three wins is a definite and dramatic change from the dead-eyed stares of disbelief last year. That, alone, should be motivation to turn this start into something that really is sustainable.
“Last year was so frustrating, but now it’s fun to come to the rink,” said centre Ryan Strome. “We’re starting to point the arrow in the right direction. It’s fun to come to the rink when you are winning. Guys are happy.”
And suddenly a visit from the Nashville Predators on Saturday seems more like an opportunity than a trip to the principal’s office.
“It will be good to face a team that’s been to the finals and really challenge ourselves early in the year,” said Strome.
“We have to ride the wave here.”
That’s what they plan on doing. October was supposed to be the month that possibly broke this team, so a chance to turn it around and use it to show how strong they are is very enticing.
“We are a hungry group, and these wins are very important for us,” said defenceman Adam Larsson. “We talked a lot about having a good start, and now we’re off to one.”
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VANCOUVER – It’s not every day the Edmonton Eskimos take on a team led by the most-winning head coach in Canadian Football League history.
And, barring a post-season meeting with Wally Buono’s B.C. Lions, Friday was the last day it will happen, as the head coach with the record for the most regular-season wins (273 coming into Friday), most first-place finishes (13) and most Grey Cup wins (five) is slated to retire.
Buono first hung up the whistle after winning the 2011 Grey Cup to focus on his duties as Lions general manager, but found himself back on the sidelines since 2016.
“He’s a legend in the game, he’s won more games than anybody, his longevity is consistency both as a general manager and a head coach, which has been tremendous,” said his Eskimos counterpart, Jason Maas, who is just three seasons into his own head-coaching career, compared to Buono’s 25 years. “And he’s a great person on top of it, so you always respect the man and I’ll probably look a lot more at this game after it’s done as to what it means.
“I have a ton of respect for him and I think you always want to beat the best, you want to measure yourself against the best and he’s been long looked at as that. As a competitive coach and a competitive person, that’s always nice, but neither one of us play the game, just coach it.”
Of course, Buono is more interested in getting to one last Grey Cup than any sort of farewell tour as the regular season winds down.
“We’re often reminded we’re on this journey with Wally for the season and you kind of forget that this is the end of a really cool legacy he’s left on the Canadian Football League,” said Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, adding it was the team’s turn to give Buono the game ball after a big win in Calgary last week, which began with a moving video tribute by a Stampeders club he spent 16 seasons with before coming to B.C. “He said, ‘Guys, this is great. I want this ball at the end of November.’ That’s just always his mindset and that’s the one thing I respect most about the guy, is 100 per cent of what he does is built on trying to win football games. So you could learn a lot of lessons from that.”
At the same time, the focus hasn’t been to win just one more for the Gipper.
“No, it hasn’t been,” Lulay said. “That’s a cherry on top, right? You’ve always kind of made it that way, it’s not about him. He doesn’t want it to be the last time he eats at Dunn’s post-game, you know what I mean? We don’t want to do every single thing.
“He’s kind of deflected a lot of that attention, but you’re reminded along the way that it’s a pretty cool journey.”STAY TUNED
Friday’s result at BC Place Stadium did nothing to finalize the Edmonton Eskimos’ playoff pursuit, one way or the other.
They came in knowing full well that a win would keep their post-season fate in their own hands, while a loss would mean they’d have to hope for outside help to punch their playoff ticket.
And now, as they’re left with a bye week to ponder what could have, should have, would have or will soon be with one game left on the regular-season schedule and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers coming to Commonwealth Stadium for the Week 21 finale on Nov. 3, it all boils down to missed opportunities earlier on that built up the late-season pressure.
“It hasn’t been the road that we wanted it to be, but you’ve got to let all that go,” Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly said ahead of Friday’s kickoff. “We’ve got two regular-season games left and the ball’s in our court in terms of getting to the post-season.
“If we take care of business, we’ll make it to the post-season and there is nothing anybody can do about it. But if we falter and stumble, then it’s going to be a much tougher road.”KICK BACK
The CFL released the list of eligible players for this year’s most-outstanding rookie award this week.
And while it might be difficult for the Eskimos to choose a team nominee with no real standout among their nine prospects, Ottawa RedBlacks kicker Lewis Ward is the front-runner for the trophy after making a career-long 52-yard field goal Friday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which gave him the record for most consecutive field goals made in professional football, eclipsing Adam Vinateiri’s 44 in a row.
But Ward’s haven’t all come from 50 yards out. In fact, before Friday, he was the only kicker in the league without an attempt from that distance.
“Yeah, if I kicked everything inside 40, too, I’d have the same stats,” said Eskimos kicker Sean Whyte, adding the two had a side bet going when Ottawa was in town last week on who would have the longest kick in the game. “I’m like, ‘Well, you guys don’t attempt anything over 45, so it’s a good bet for me.’”
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You should know that not once last year did the Edmonton Oilers manage to win more than three games in a row.
Saturday night, against the Nashville Predators, in their sixth game of the season, the Oilers have an opportunity to make it four straight.
Playoff teams put together winning streaks.
It’s often the product of confidence as it ebbs and flows throughout an 82-game season. And you can see confidence starting to grow this team of young talent.
Every game, as the Oilers move forward with a 3-2 record after the combined challenge of their toughest stretch of the entire season, both in terms of the 20,029 kilometres of air travel from Cologne to Goteborg to Boston to New York to Winnipeg and with the degree of difficulty of top teams, New Jersey, Boston, Winnipeg, Boston again, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville again, you can see it.
One by one, the number of individuals playing with confidence seems to grow, if not from the start of games, at least by the end of them.
It started, of course, as all things do with the Oilers, with Connor McDavid when he looked like the only confident player in the lineup.
Five games into the season and McDavid has 11 points, the most points by an Oiler in the first five games of a regular season since Wayne Gretzky had 12 in 1987-88.
Then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins climbed aboard.
After going pointless in the Oilers two losses to start the season, Nugent-Hopkins has produced seven points with two goals and three assists in the three-game winning streak.
“Going into the game, Nuge had been on the ice for nine goals for our team and only one against and it was an empty-netter. That tells you how well he’s been playing,” said coach Todd McLellan in his post-game media gathering Thursday.
Nugent-Hopkins goes into the Hockey Night in Canada game Saturday, where he has excelled so far in his career, with two goals and five assists.
McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, Sportsnet Stats revealed, are 1-2 in NHL stats for being in on the highest percentage of team goals. McDavid has been in on 11 of 13 and Nugent-Hopkins with seven of the 13.
Now, off what we watched Thursday night in the Oilers home opening 3-2 overtime victory against Boston, Cam Talbot has appears to have climbed aboard.
Talbot stopped 27 of 29 and, after a terrific pre-season but a wobbly start in his first two games, he has played well since.
“Talbs was essential in the first period. We were flat. We were frozen. We didn’t move. We were standing still thinking where the puck was going to go. Without Cam’s performance in the first period we don’t get a chance to come back,” said McLellan of the goalie who did this so often two years ago, gave the team confidence in doing so again.
Developing defenceman Darnell Nurse displayed his growing confidence in scoring the overtime winner in Winnipeg.
The Swedish defence top pairing of Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson both lugged huge minutes (28:04 and 23:17) with the Oilers defence down to five with an early-game injury to Matt Benning as their bounce-back from special circumstances continued. But it was Nurse with a whopping 27:39 of ice time against Boston and a team-leading 25:08 average for the season who is playing with the confidence of a much more experienced veteran now.
“It’s his willingness to shoot a little more than he did in the past. He’s able to get square to the net, get a shot off a little quicker, get it to the goaltender’s pads so there’s a scrum or secondary scoring opportunities,” said McLellan.
“He’s also confident in his legs. His legs get him in situations where he can jump up in the play. His decision making in the last few games has been much better and as a result, he’s been much more involved in the offence.”
Rookie Kailer Yamamoto scored the first goal of his NHL career, an absolute beauty, and ended up penalty killing and was on the ice in the last minute of regulation.
“Any time you use a young player like that on the penalty kill, it tells you how much you trust him and what his anticipation skills are like,” said McLellan.
“He’s very aware of what’s going on around him with and without the puck. As a result he becomes a very good offensive player but also very trustworthy defensively right now.”
Milan Lucic has already played so much better in five games this year than in the entire second half of the schedule last season, although it doesn’t really show in point production that the return of playing with confidence may be most evident with him.
Of course, that still leaves half a lineup looking to find their confidence. But if this apparent trend continues, and more and more players climb aboard, winning streaks that last longer than three games are to be expected.
Jeff Paulus is playing to win when his FC Edmonton prospects host Cavalry FC in the second leg of the Al (Alberta) Classico on Saturday.
But how the team plays the game is actually more important than the result.
As head coach of the rebranded professional soccer club preparing to play in the inaugural Canadian Premier League season this spring, the exhibition game against the Calgary entry into the league will give Paulus another opportunity to evaluate prospective players.
The two teams met three weeks ago in Calgary and played to a 2-2 tie in the first leg of what is expected to be a yearly series.
“We’re going for the win even though it’s a prospects’ game and we’re looking at players at the moment,” Paulus said. “We’re trying to see where we’re at in terms of trying to build our roster, but it’s against Calgary, so we want to win it and our players want to win it. They enjoyed beating up on our academy kids last year in the first Al Classico, and now our senior players have taken a bit of offence to that.”
A year ago, the CPL was a work in progress and FC Edmonton had yet to commit to the upstart Canadian league after ceasing operations with the future of the North American Soccer League in doubt.
The first Al Classico featured the FC Edmonton reserves against Calgary Foothills FC, who were playing in the United Soccer League. Foothills dominated the two-game series against their younger opponents.
This year, FC Edmonton took an older squad to Calgary for the first leg, which featured a contingent of players from Quebec looking to make an impression on Paulus.
“I was delighted with the game,” Paulus said. “We had three days of training. We had a lot of new players coming into trials, and we had three days to shape them and we tried to play the type of football that we want to play going forward, which is building from the back.
“I thought for the first 30 minutes we were very good on the ball. I think we enjoyed most of the ball in the first half and then I think we had a little bit of a dip as fatigue started to set in.”
A number of players made an impression on Paulus in the first leg and 13 will suit up again for the second (1:30 p.m.) at Clarke Stadium.
“One in particular, Andre Bona (from Quebec), I thought did quite well as a central defender,” Paulus said. “He did quite well for us, not knowing the system or the players. It’s tough for new players coming in, they’re trying to learn everybody and trying to learn my system versus the guys in my academy that have played with me for years. I brought four new players for this Saturday as well that are looking to impress.”
Having been hired as FC Edmonton head coach earlier this year, Paulus has a vision of the type of team he would like to field when the CPL season launches in April. He is looking for players who fit that vision.
Paulus wants to play a possession game, which requires players who are comfortable on the ball and in tune with their teammates.
Playing such a style can be hazardous with players coming together as a team on short notice.
“It’s a risk for sure. You risk giving up possession building out of the back, you risk turnovers in your defending third, which can kill you,” Paulus said. “So you’re taking a risk, but at this point for me to see the players and to see if they have potential to play the way I want them to play, it’s more important at the end of the day than conceding a goal.”
Despite being an exhibition game, Paulus expects the second leg of the home-and-home series to be a contentious affair, as was the first.
“Our guys want to show where the best football is played in Alberta, and we believe it’s up here,” Paulus said. “This is going to be an important game for us. When you’re competing for spots, competing for your city, there is a lot on the line, and a result goes a long way to determine we are good enough.”
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After coming back from 4-1 down to beat the Winnipeg Jets in overtime, the Edmonton Oilers were looking to make a statement in their home opener Thursday.
Two of them, actually.
Firstly, they reaffirmed that they don’t really like showing up for the first period.
And secondly, they showed there is some serious fight in this team.
Down to five defencemen and 11 forwards for more than half the game, and reeling after being pistol-whipped in the first period, the Oilers settled down and ground out a clutch 3-2 overtime win over the visiting Boston Bruins.
Leon Draisaitl’s goal 37 seconds into the extra period sealed the victory, thanks to a set up from Connor McDavid, whose two-point night gives him 11 in five games.
The 3-2 Oilers were a mess to start this one, though. Boston played the night before but it was Edmonton that looked dead on its feet. They were being outshot 9-1 through the first 10 minutes and didn’t register their second shot on net until the 14-minute mark.
If it wasn’t for Cam Talbot they would have been out of it by the first intermission.
“He was essential in the first period,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “We were flat. We were frozen. We didn’t move. We got pucks and we were standing still thinking about where the puck was going to go next.
“Once we got going and got skating and supported puck movement we were a lot better but without Cam’s performance in the first period we don’t get a chance to come back.”
Five games into the season and the Oilers haven’t had a lead after 20 minutes yet.
But they weathered the storm, regrouped and broke the .500 barrier for the first time since opening night last year thank to goals from Kailer Yamamoto, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and, of course, a game-saving first period from Talbot.IT REVERTS TO DEFENCE
The Oilers were down to five defencemen for the second half of the game when Matt Benning left with an injury and didn’t return in the second period. That meant more minutes for Evan Bouchard, but he was fine with it. The kid is poised beyond his years, skates and moves the puck very well and has a cannon for a shot. And it’s not like other more senior defencemen don’t make mistakes from time to time.
“The back end was taxed very early with Matt Benning leaving and not coming back,” said McLellan, who doubts Benning will be ready for Nashville on Saturday. “It was a tough night for them but they gave us some pretty brave minutes, the five of them.”
By the end of the game, Oscar Klefbom had logged 28:04 of ice time and Darnell Nurse 27:39.
“It sucks to see a guy like Benning go down,” said Larsson. “But everybody wants to be on the ice all the time and we got a lot of minutes and that’s what you want. We were able to weather the storm today but obviously moving forward we need six D ready to play.”ONE TO REMEMBER
Kailer Yamamoto has been waiting a while to get his first NHL goal, but he made it good one. And the timing was perfect. With the Oilers trailing 1-0 in the second period Yamamoto took a long pass from Adam Larsson, stepped away from Charlie McAvoy and ripped one under the crossbar and just inside the far post to bring the Oilers and the building back to life.
“It felt even better than I thought it would,” he said. “It was crazy. Luckily I got around the D-man and found some space.”DRAW POWER
Connor McDavid continues to round out his game. Not only has he added goal scoring to his repertoire, but he is also coming on strong in the faceoff circle. He won seven of his first nine draws against Patrice Bergeron and finished the game at 60 per cent.SNOOZE FEST
The Oilers seem to make a habit out of lifeless pre-game videos and this year is no exception. For the second year in a row they dropped a spoken word essay on the dumbfounded crowd — some guy droning on for two minutes telling people from Edmonton what it’s like to live in Edmonton. The purpose of these things is to fire up the crowd, that’s why everyone else shows hits, goals, saves and fights to the backdrop of rock music. But the Oilers always need to overthink it. And when it was done the place was dead silent.THAT CONFOUNDED BRIDGE
Then came the bridge. The Oilers skated onto the ice through a miniature version of the Walterdale Bridge. Visually it was fine, but, needless to say, skating through one of the least efficient rebuilding projects in Edmonton history opened the door for a plethora of Twitter jokes. It’s just a one-time expenditure because the Oilers normally come onto the ice through the bench, not the Zamboni tunnel, which is the only place the bridge will fit. The Mini Walter was already being disassembled after the game.LATE HITS
Nugent-Hopkins threw a scare into everyone when he left the game briefly after being hit on the foot by a Patrice Bergeron shot. The Oilers aren’t exactly deep enough to lose a first line winger right now, but he was back on the ice within minutes… Unfortunately, winger Ty Rattie also left the game in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not return. He is doubtful for Nashville on Saturday… Nurse kept it 0-0 in the final seconds of the first period when he batted away a puck during a wild goalmouth scramble. Nurse saved another one with 1:17 left when he laid out Danton Heinen before he could bang in a loose puck in the crease.
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People will want to talk about the goal, and rightly so.
Kailer Yamamoto’s laser beam over Jaroslav Halak’s shoulder is about as pretty a first career NHL goal as a player can score. But head coach Todd McLellan was more focused on the other side of the 20-year-old winger’s game in the wake of Edmonton’s 3-2 overtime win over the Boston Bruins Thursday.
Like the fact he trusted him enough to have him out there in the waning moments of a tie game. Or the fact he uses a kid with 14 career games to kill penalties.
“Any time you use a young player like that on the penalty kill it tells you how much you trust him and what his anticipation skills are like,” said McLellan. “He’s very aware of what’s going on around him with and without the puck. As a result he becomes a very good offensive player but also very trusting defensively right now.
“When we watch the chances for and against he’s on for some chances against but a lot of times he’s a victim of the play around him. Very seldom is it directly related to him erring. It makes us feel comfortable on the ice.”
As for the goal… “It’s time,” said McLellan. “He’s had a lot of good chances. I sensed a bit of relief in him, hopefully now the rest will come quicker.”
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 19, 2018
With no goals to show for his first 13 games in the league (nine last year), some people outside the team wondered if Yamamoto might be better served working on his game in the AHL. A game like Thursday definitely strengthens the case to keep him up here.
“Everybody is so happy for him,” said defenceman Adam Larsson, who set up the goal with a nice outlet pass. “He’s worked extremely hard and to see him get rewarded and to get some depth scoring is a good sign.”
You could see the joy on Yamamoto’s face when it went in, which is understandable given that it was his first goal, it was a beauty, and it came at a time when the Oilers, down 1-0 and struggling, really needed it.
“When I scored I didn’t know what to do,” he said, adding his mind went blank. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh man, it went in. What a feeling.’
“I was a little nervous. I’m not going to lie. I scored and I was thinking, ‘OK, what do I do now?’’’
His teammates jokingly kept him humble, though.
“They said ‘Keep it up, one goal isn’t going to make a career.”
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 19, 2018
The way the Edmonton Oilers have started their five games this season, you could make the case that they deserve to be the same 1-4 team they were at this time last year.
But they’re not.
Thanks in part to the hockey gods and their top end talent rising to the occasion when the occasion demanded it, the Oilers head to their sixth game of the season Saturday night with a 3-2 record.
The score sheet will read that Leon Draisaitl won this one at 37 seconds of overtime 3-2 over the Boston Bruins. It will also indicate that Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored big goals to provide the win.
But, while he wasn’t awarded one of the three stars, it says here your goalie has to win you a few games during the season and Cam Talbot won that one.
Stopping 27 of 29 shots, many of them with sensational saves, Talbot held the Oilers in there early when they once again didn’t show up intent to win all those little battles and races to the puck.
Talbot made up for the energy lost when the Oilers didn’t play their part out of the gate.
The theory was that the last team to hold a home opener in the NHL this season would emerge into a building so charged by energy you’d see sparks flying off of their skates.
The concept was that, fuelled by their comeback in Winnipeg again the team with the longest home winning streak combined with the end of the Edmonton Oilers 20,029 kilometre four-game world tour road trip, the team would come home to a spectacular scene.
There was a miniature Walterdale Bridge constructed for the team to emerge and be introduced prior to the start of the home opener of their 40th season in the league.
And it was kind of cool as season tickets for all 40 years of the franchise in the NHL circled the Oilers logo at centre ice to be joined by members of today’s team beside them as they were introduced.
But then they dropped the puck.
In no time at all the shots on goal were 8-1 for the Bruins team that welcomed the Oilers back to North America with a 4-1 spanking after losing their opener 5-2 to New Jersey in Goteborg.
That sort of sucked the energy out of the place.
But then, finally, it began to build.
With Edmonton fans praying for somebody other than Connor McDavid to take a turn at leading the way, somebody else did.
It was Talbot who stopped the first 15 shots of the game against the team with arguably the top line in the league — Patrice Bergeron, David Pasternak and Brad Marchant.
David Krejci finally broke the seal on a 0-0 game that should have been about 3-0 halfway through the second period. But then Kailer Yamamoto scored his first NHL goal, and a gorgeous one at that, to tie it up.
And suddenly there was energy in Rogers Place.
And there were plenty of players rating praise from the goaltender to the three goal scorers while McDavid played a supporting role.
OK. So a supporting role for McDavid is setting up the last two goals.
No. 97 now has 11 points in his first five games.
McDavid had 11 points after his first 10 games before playing through two separate extended spells of illness en route to a 108-point Art Ross Trophy run last season.
The year before, he had 12 points in his first 10 games on his way to a 100-point first NHL scoring title.
It’s like the schedule-maker really had it against the Oilers this year with a 20,029-kilometre road trip to open the season with a game against New Jersey in Goteborg, Sweden, and visits to Boston, New York and Winnipeg followed by four 100-point teams from last year, Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Washington for the first home stand of the season.
Either that, or the schedule-maker just couldn’t wait to put the Hart Trophy-snubbed McDavid against the top teams and the league’s biggest stars against the Oilers captain who is being celebrated as the greatest player in the game by somebody of significance (Sidney Crosby being the latest) almost daily now.
Crosby is here with the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins of two and three years ago followed by Alex Ovechkin and the current Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals next Thursday.
It’s been a study of the way the stretch of premium attractions wasn’t being anticipated with enthusiasm in Edmonton so much as dread by fans who had sold out their last 507 games while the Oilers missed the playoffs 11 of the last 12 years.
But with a third straight win, and a winning record, this team has something to take forward into the rest of the home stand.
Maybe Saturday they’ll show up for the start of the game. It’s not until 8 p.m.
Edmonton Oilers rookie defenceman Evan Bouchard travelled a long way to make his NHL debut.
After an impressive training camp, Bouchard, 18, earned a spot on the roster and went to Europe with the Oilers for an exhibition game in Cologne, Germany and season opener in Goteborg, Sweden. He was back in the lineup Thursday for the Oilers home opener against the Boston Bruins.
“It was a great experience to be able to bond with the team and to have a chance to play my first game overseas, that was pretty cool,” Bouchard said. “I think it took time to really get used to playing in the NHL, but I think I adjusted well and playing with the guys we have here, it makes it that much easier for me.”
The 10th overall pick in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Bouchard showed good poise in his first three games with the Oilers before sitting out against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. He averaged 13 minutes of ice time in his three games and had an even rating in losses to the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, and in the win against the New York Rangers.
“He’s held his own fairly well,” said Oilers head coach Todd McLellan. “Our fans will see him play at home (Thursday) and he’ll continue developing.”
As a junior-aged player, the Oilers have nine games to decide whether Bouchard is ready to play in the NHL on a regular basis or send him back to junior.
“I’m really trying to take it day by day and learn every day, whether I’m here for just nine games or I’m going to be here longer, I’m not worrying about that,” Bouchard said. “I’m just trying to learn every day that I’m here.”GOOD TO BE HOME
The Edmonton Oilers have been away for so long, it would not be surprising if they’ve forgotten the feel of playing at Rogers Place.
The Oilers last played a pre-season game there on Sept. 29, before heading off on their European junket and then returning to North America to play three road games.
“It’s been a long road to start the season, so we’re happy to be back at Rogers, and obviously, we want to establish home-ice advantage early this year,” said Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot. “We didn’t get off to the start that wanted to last year, so we wanted to make sure we put our best foot forward (Thursday).”
The Oilers went into Thursday’s home opener on a two-game winning streak after a gritty win against the Rangers and surprising comeback, on the road, against the Winnipeg Jets, battling back from a 4-1 third-period deficit to win 5-4 in overtime.
“That’s huge for our confidence and that’s a tough building to play in,” he said. “Any time you can come back and gut out a big win in a building like that is obviously a huge confidence boost for us.”HOMECOMING FOR DEBRUSK
The first question for Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk on Thursday morning was deflected to his father Louie, the former Oilers winger, who is now the team’s TV colour man.
Louie DeBrusk asked his son where inherited his soft hands, considering he had 24 goals in 401 games in the NHL. Jake DeBrusk, meanwhile, has 18 goals in 76 NHL games going into Thursday’s contest against the Oilers.
“I don’t know,” smiled Jake. “Yours were concrete.”
All joking aside, DeBrusk, who turned 22 on Wednesday, was happy to be back in his hometown. The six-foot, 188-pound winger had a strong rookie season with 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games with the Bruins last year. This season, he has two goals in his first six games, heading into the contest against the Oilers.
“Just the memories of Edmonton in general,” Jake DeBrusk said. “It’s a new rink here and my dad didn’t play in this one, but he played in Rexall where I played junior and that was pretty cool. Any time you come back to Edmonton to my hometown to see friends and family and it being the home opener (for Oilers), there are going to be a lot of familiar faces out there. It’s a special night for me and it’s a big night for our team.”ANOTHER VOTE FOR MCDAVID
While voices in Toronto attempt to start a debate as to who the best player in the NHL is at the moment, suggesting Auston Matthews gets the nod over Connor McDavid based on a hot start to the season, Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara has little doubt.
“Connor is probably the best player in the league right as of now,” Chara said. “He’s very explosive, very fast, very skilled, very unpredictable. He sees two or three plays ahead of what’s going to happen. His ability to skate and make plays at high speed are very unique. It’s exceptional.
“You have a player like that who comes around maybe once in 20 or 30 years. Wayne (Gretzky), (Mario) Lemieux, Sid (Sidney Crosby), you have guys who come every 20, 30 years and they make a huge impact on the league. He’s the face of the league right now, he’s the best player and we’re going to probably have to wait for another 20 years to see someone like that. Maybe sooner, but he’s very special.”
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On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest